My friend and colleague Sheila Heen, co-author of the well-known book, Difficult Conversations, just wrote a wonderful column for the New York Times, entitled Sleeping with the (Political) Enemy, all about how she and her husband John Richardson (also a negotiation and conflict resolution expert) manage to communicate about their vast political differences. I read it to my ADR class today, as we all wait with bated breath, for the outcome of the election tonight. The fact of the matter is that, even if we are not sleeping with the political enemy, we are likely very close to them–either descended from them, sister to them, roomed with them in college, or otherwise generally enjoy their company as long as you are not discussing politics. I know that the statistics say we are all moving to neighborhoods filled with like-minded people; that we all watch news networks that only support our point of view; and that we are drifting apart. I hope that, whatever happens tonight, as one half of the country despairs about the sanity of the other half–we remember our similarities as well as our differences. As Sheila put it,
when you marry across the divide, you have to give up things that provide the like-minded self-satisfied comfort. As tempting as it is, we can’t demonize those on the other side as idiots who are out of touch, because they’re liable to reach out across the dinner table to touch you (and rather sharply).
Being self-satisfied is not worth the narrow-mindedness of only talking to those who already agree with you. I fully expect that we will all continue to have dinner together.